The Nameless Horror

First 100 - On The Street

Jozef dodged around a handcart laden with cabbages pushed by a man with a face like a kicked spaniel. “No,” he said. “Not a lot. Not without reason. What happened on the voyage? Did you discuss your employment here with anyone?”

“Only that I was going to work for a city magistrate, not in what capacity. The only time I might have said more was in conversation with the ship’s chief engineer. Not with any of the passengers.”

“An educated foreign woman, not of obvious noble birth or great wealth, travelling alone to Zunderlicht to take up an official post – it wouldn’t have taken much to jump to the conclusion that you were an informatician.”

“You don’t think I’d pass as nobility?”

“You don’t come across as enough of an arsehole,” he said.

In a bid to get myself writing more through publicly tracking progress, the ‘first 100’ is/will be the first 100 or so words spat out whenever I’m working on my own material, whatever they are, unchecked and unedited.

The last 12 months, professionally speaking

2017 was a solid, pretty average year in most respects. In those 12 months, I:

  • edited 57 short stories: 228k words*.
  • edited 10 novels: 900k words*.
  • wrote 51 editor’s reports: 153k words*.
  • wrote non-fiction (trade journalism, an RPG bound eventually for DriveThru, misc. stuff): 100k words.
  • wrote fiction: 4k words.

*Estimates based on rough averages for each category, probably on the low side for most (particularly the novels). Reports don’t include later-draft follow-ups in correspondence either. I tend to be quite lengthy in editing feedback, and you could probably tack on another 30-40k in email form if you were so inclined. I don’t write reports for copy edits, hence the number disparity.

So as a freelance editor (my schedule’s not bad at the moment, hit me up, blah blah blah), I’m clearly keeping busy. Which is good; it’s generally enjoyable work and it’s nice to help writers across ability groups and backgrounds polish their output, build their skills and confidence, or learn the basics of the craft.

And as a fiction writer in my own right, I’ve clearly managed piss-bugger-all. That’s not strictly true - I’ve done a lot of tidying of a novel finished the year before, done a lot of research for that one I got 4k into, done a lot of planning, and replanning, and planning again - but in terms of words-on-page, jack shit.

That needs to change this year if I’m not to fall out of the habit entirely. I think it’s partly a case of time limitations, partly a case of tidying/fixing last year’s output turning into an interminable slog that’s made me want to stab toothpicks in my eyes rather than even think about writing anything, and partly the creeping doubt that builds over time between making progress on something, the sense that maybe you haven’t gotten anywhere because you’re not going to, you’re never going to, because you’ve somehow forgotten how. It’s over. Stick a fork in you, you’re done.

Which, frankly, is all bullshit. Other than maybe the time thing, but even then; I used to be strict at carving out a little chunk of the week for my own stuff. Little by little, while keeping the editing rolling along because that’s what pays the bills, I need to return to taking my own writing/career seriously too this year, particularly if I stick to self-pub, which I’ve been very half-arsed with. (Yes, we’re a month into 2018 already, but I’ve had flu. I’ve also turned 40 and am now therefore Old and Old People forget things like the simple procession of time.)

So, 2018: keep editing, start enjoying writing again, finish a damn novel.

Charlie Stross on our dreadful future

Charlie Stross’ keynote for the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig in December sees him on top form on why everything is going wrong.

Paperclip maximizers that focus on eyeballs are so 20th century. Advertising as an industry can only exist because of a quirk of our nervous system—that we are susceptible to addiction. Be it tobacco, gambling, or heroin, we recognize addictive behaviour when we see it. Or do we? It turns out that the human brain’s reward feedback loops are relatively easy to game. Large corporations such as Zynga (Farmville) exist solely because of it; free-to-use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are dominant precisely because they are structured to reward frequent interaction and to generate emotional responses (not necessarily positive emotions—anger and hatred are just as good when it comes to directing eyeballs towards advertisers). “Smartphone addiction” is a side-effect of advertising as a revenue model: frequent short bursts of interaction keep us coming back for more.

Well worth your time.

Review: The Bone Keeper

What’s this? It’s only a review of The Bone Keeper by Luca Veste, which isn’t even out until March. Sorcery!

The Bone Keeper

Disclaimer: Luca has said nice things about my own writing in the past before he became famous, and he has several of my family members and at least one pet held hostage in secret locations around the country, each strapped to (or in the case of Mr Tiddles, trapped inside with nothing but a squeaky mouse for company) a nuclear weapon. He’s a maniac and must be stopped.

In his latest, Luca veers away from his police procedural series to venture into serial killing urban legend territory (though one of the central characters is still a detective).

A woman (whose surname, possibly coincidentally - there’s a few of us around, is Rickards) is found staggering down a street, bloody and clearly tortured. All she’s able to say to start with is a fragment of a local childhood rhyme about the mythical “Bone Keeper”, said to lurk in the woods and kill people to steal their bones, and who, presumably, may not be as mythical as the adult officers who know the rhyme from their own childhoods might have told themselves.

I can’t say much about how it develops because, hey, spoilers, but the Bone Keeper himself is enjoyably nasty and alien, the other characters have plenty of depth, the various plot elements roll along snappily, the families of his other victims and the effect the killings/disappearances have had on them are particularly nicely drawn, and there’s a very clever bait and switch: one character lost her brother to the killer, one has a tragic fire-related history, and Luca lets you believe it’s not the character you think has either, without making you feel at all cheated when clarity comes.

For the most part it plays out like any good slasher story - the Bone Keeper remains creepy as you like (in a similar way to the killer in Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine, if you’ve read that (and you should)) - until the truth comes out. When things come to a head, I was immediately reminded (without spoiling anything; this reference could mean anything) of Hot Fuzz. Not that it’s comical at all - not at all, but rather there’s an aspect of what’s happening that… well, spoilers. It’s no bad thing - Fuzz is a great menacing British murder story as well as a comedy - and the resolution is entirely bought and paid-for by the build up to it.

Well worth your time and filthy, filthy money when it’s out…

Now please can I have Mr Tiddles back, Luca?

2017, then

So here we are again, blowing away the cobwebs once more. The year’s been insanely busy with editing work - at one point before Easter I was booking up short stories over two months in advance, and it’s taken me a month to finish writing this post - and that’s limited lots of things, like work on my own stuff, reading for fun, writing about the latter. And dealing with the existential dread that comes with living with 2017’s political fucknuttery, of course.

So here’s a couple of things in brief form.

Bullet Gal (Andrez Bergen)

It took me a long time to get to this and I feel bad for that because Andrew’s had one hell of a year (and it’s getting little better; he’s currently thousands of miles from his family again undergoing further rehab for a stroke). But it was worth it - this is a return to Heropa (a city whose first outing I loved) and a look at its most legendary superhero. It’s punchy, wryly funny, and carries all the flair and imagination you’d expect from Bergen. He’s had a bastard of a year so do yourself a favour and buy some/all of his stuff.

Then She Was Gone (Luca Veste)

Many, many years ago, Luca wrote reviews and said lots of nice things about my Levels books. Somehow in the interim he’s written a zillion books of his own and minstrels fanfare his every entrance at publishing events. He sent me this ages ago and I read it ages ago and said nothing because I’m a bad person. This is accomplished and engaging British police procedural and I’d happily read the others in the series. The serial killer standalone he’s got out next year looks swish too.

Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I do enjoy peering into approaches to storycrafting, and this is a good one. More practically-minded than ones like Into The Woods, less prescriptive than most. There’s some repetition in the breakdowns, particularly Jaws, but that’s forgivable and there’s plenty of good stuff here for writers of all stripes.

Save The Cat! (Blake Snyder)

This, however, is (mostly) not. There’s some decent general advice, though nothing not covered elsewhere, and a whole lot of trumpet-blowing and guff. It’s also gratingly ’old Hollywood’ in its treatment of gender at times (maybe more so because I read Alex’s book right before this one). I know Snyder had a track record - selling thirteen scripts (IIRC), two of which were made, and teaching widely - so he was no idiot and maybe the style carried better in person, but I kept being reminded that the two he did see made were Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (though he only mentions this one once, presumably because his screenplay won a Razzie and the movie is widely regarded as one of the worst mainstream films ever made) and Blank Check (only mildly better regarded), and maybe my expectations lowered to match. In all honesty, Michael Moorcock’s ’Novel In Three Days’ advice or the Lester Dent Master Plot are probably as useful or more so, easier to digest, and above all, free.

To Catch A Rabbit (Helen Cadbury)

Helen tragically died a few weeks ago, but she was a fine writer and her work has all the awareness and sharpness of the best Britcrime. Go read.

So there we go. In between, I’ve made it to Harrogate crime festival for the first time in years, released a complete and bundled version of Portal of the Gods into the wild, and stopped completely neglecting my own self-pubbed work, for now at least.

In the meantime, back to editing.